Samo Salamon: Melody, Heaviness and Maturity

Paul Olson By

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samo salamon There are many outstanding guitarists in jazz music, but Samo Salamon stands out. He's a technically terrifying musician, but the world of improvisational music is full of players with intimidating technique. Salamon's greatest attribute is his uniqueness: His rock-inflected electric tone and trademark solo lines of jagged single notes and crunching chord clusters are his own. He's as talented a composer as he is a guitarist, with a fondness for through-composed passages, challenging harmony and impossibly-complex time signatures.

What makes his work so impressive, though, is the fact that he continues to live in his native Slovenia—a location not readily associated with jazz music, and certainly not with the kind of cutting-edge, no-standards ensemble material Salamon is creating. A typical New York musician is playing a gig tonight, and tomorrow night, and again the night after that—the constant stimulus of playing with other very talented musicians is a given. But if Salamon isn't on one of his regular-but-infrequent tours, he's at home—teaching guitar, practicing and writing.

That said, Salamon has already (and he is still a young player) studied and worked with an enormous number of great musicians: John Scofield (with whom he studied in 2000), Drew Gress, Donny McCaslin, Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, Tom Rainey, Salvatore Maiore, Kyle Gregory, Emanuele Cisi, and Dave Binney. That's to name only a few.

And Salamon has managed to establish himself as a very viable bandleader that the aforementioned players, and many more, are happy to support on his tours and recording projects. He led the European Ansasa Trio from 2000 to 2004 and self-released his first recording under his own name, Ornethology, in 2003. Since then, he's continued to release CDs on the Fresh Sound New Talent and Splasc(h) labels, and each successive recording project is better than the one that preceded it.

Salamon comes into his own with his 2006 release Kei's Secret—released before this year's New Sounds release Government Cheese, but recorded after. Here, with his cross-continental New Quartet, he sounds definitively like himself; his chordal groupings and keening lines are fully realized. So, too, are his compositions. Salamon's fascinated with complexity, both rhythmic and harmonic, and while one suspects he'll always be uncomfortable with writing anything too easy, the pieces here feel more organic, less demonstrative.

He seems to have less to prove as player as well. While Salamon's lines have always been deeply melodic, his guitar playing on previous projects could feel overly stuffed with technique for its own sake. Here he utilizes that dazzling technique more as a means to a melodic end than as an end in itself. He's a young, developing player, and it's thrilling to hear him get better and better from project to project.

I called Salamon at home in his hometown of Maribor, Slovenia to discuss his many musical projects—released and otherwise.

Chapter Index
  1. Kei's Secret and the New Quartet
  2. Government Cheese and the NYC Quintet
  3. Working with Jaka Berger
  4. Gear
  5. Composing
  6. Unreleased Recordings and Projects
  7. Playing in Slovenia

Kei's Secret and the New Quartet

All About Jazz: You've got several recently released recordings, and I think we'll discuss some of them individually. Actually, you've got a lot of recorded material, and only some of it has been released.

First, let's discuss the most recently recorded release. That's your 2006 Splasc(h) Records release, Kei's Secret, a November, 2005 live recording from Cankarjev dom Ljubljana in Slovenia by your New Quartet of reeds player Achille Succi, bassist Carlo DeRosa, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. This is a great live set that has a very unique, immediate, and dry sound. I assume it's a soundboard recording, since the audience is all but inaudible.

Samo Salamon: It is. It's a soundboard recording.

AAJ: These are some of your best compositions played by a band that had been touring for a month and is consequently very cohesive and knows the material inside and out. That's no small achievement, because there's a lot of through-composed material here and, of course, your characteristically tricky time signatures and changes.

Tell me about these players—two New York-based players and one Italian, Achille, with whom you had recorded before. How'd you get these players together, and what do you think this band does with your music?

SS: Well, like you said, it's really a terrific band. All of these guys are amazing. I've known Achille now for five years, and we've recorded as sidemen for each other. He's recorded as a sideman for me, and we both worked together as sidemen for one drummer for five or six records. So we really have this communication going on, which is perfect for me, because he's really good at everything—from playing totally free music to really through-composed music. Also, he's a great reader, and he plays some amazing solos over tricky forms. One tune on this record, "Pyramid, is an amazingly tricky form that covers four pages, with heavy changes, and he just plays his ass off there. He's amazing. So it's really fun to play with him. We've had a great musical relationship for several years now, and I'm looking forward to doing more things in the future.

As for the other two guys, I think I had heard in some way of Tyshawn, and I got his contact and got in touch with him. He's probably, for me at this moment, the craziest drummer around. He's like Jim Black, Tom Rainey, or Gerald Cleaver—one of those cats who is just a genius. So he was perfect for this project because it demanded, on the one hand, total musical freedom—being able to play totally open and free—while one the other hand, it demanded that he play really heavy forms. So what he does on some of those tunes is amazing.

Carlo was suggested to me by Tyshawn. They play together in Tyshawn's band Obliquity, I believe. He's also one of the most in-demand bass players in New York and a great guy. And those two guys play together a lot, so they had a nice hookup as a rhythm section. And Achille and I had a nice hookup as a frontline, so everything blended perfectly.

AAJ: Tyshawn's playing is often so complex, even busy, but he seems to have learned and understood your songs perfectly. He's absorbed the times so well, he can play around them. And Carlo seems the perfect bassist to play with Tyshawn; he anchors the music.

SS: Definitely. I agree with you—like on the first tune on the record, "When We Go Away, that trio tune. During my solo, Carlo's just holding that 11/4 vamp and Tyshawn and I are just going crazy. And you might think Tyshawn's just playing free, and he is in a way, but he's playing all this polyrhythmic stuff, and so much is happening. But on the other hand, every once in a while he gives you a sign [making the sound of a cymbal crashing] that he knows exactly what he's doing—he knows where he is in the tune. He can be the busiest drummer, but on the tune "Kei's Secret, he just keeps the basic beat. So he can do a lot.

AAJ: Whenever I hear one of your recordings, I think you must have written the tunes with the particular band in mind. Here, for example, the songs seem designed for the two voices of you and Achille plus bass and drums. But did you write the tunes separate from any project and then adapt them to the band?

SS: Maybe I don't write for players per se. But, for example, I set up a tour with [bassist] Drew Gress and Tom Rainey, so I knew it would be a trio. And I was aware of that when I was writing the music. I knew what Drew did really well, so I wanted to feature him in certain places—I would want him to play a solo or to play arco. It was the same with this group, knowing that Achille was amazing on bass clarinet, or that he could do really great Steve Coleman-ish phrasing, or that he played great solos on really odd meters. I'm definitely aware of things like this, and I think of them when I prepare for a project.

For several months in advance, I listen to different sorts of records to absorb different stuff, hundreds of albums, classical and otherwise—just listening to music, absorbing music, and writing down concepts. Then two months before a project, I sit down and start gathering the ideas and start to write music. So it's a long period of preparation once I've actually established the band and I know about the individual instruments and players. Then I sit down and write the music.

AAJ: Let's discuss some of the actual pieces.

I think "A Step Back is a classic Samo piece—it's complex, it's a little Ornette-y, and underneath its jaggedness it's very playful and melodic. This is one you wrote for your girlfriend, and it's got two sections and lots of time changes—both changes in the time signatures and in the actual speed of performance, from rapid to slow. The theme materials are so jabbing, even syncopated or staccato, and your solo with that unique and sometimes-percussive phrasing really brings out that staccato quality of the melody.

SS: It's funny, because we had a long tour, and the music was really evolving. The concert where this was recorded was really special, and for this tune, the tempo changes in the A part happened spontaneously. We experimented a lot on every concert; we just tried out stuff. And we tried this tune on other concerts, and it didn't work that well. But when we did it at this concert, Tyshawn just started to slow down, and we were just looking at each other: "What do we do? Do we keep playing in the same tempo we've been in or should we follow him? So we followed him, and it happened so smoothly, it was as if it had been written that way.

AAJ: I just assumed it was written that way.

SS: It's great you thought so. But it was really organic and happened in a totally natural way. I like this tune because it's really melodic in the A part, and the B part has that crazy solo from Achille and a really heavy theme over it. It was really heavy to play; it was probably hardest for Carlo who had to just keep holding it together with that 17/8 bass line, with Tyshawn not playing in 17/8, and Achille and me playing the theme over. It was pretty complex, but perfect in the way it turned out.

AAJ: Someone has to hold this stuff down, and that's frequently Carlo's role.

SS: Exactly. And this is definitely a band I'd like to continue to work with. I loved how everything evolved. And even during the first concert we played, which was just as a trio of me, Carlo and Tyshawn, the music already sounded amazing. It felt like a really natural, organic band; it all just worked naturally.

AAJ: Speaking of that trio, "When We Go Away is a great chance to hear you in that trio format without Achille. You cite guitarists Ben Monder and Bill Frisell as inspirations for this one, and the reverby theme, with your mixture of single notes and pregnant chords, is very evocative of Monder. This one feels through-composed until your heavy, digital-delayish guitar solo over those nervous, prowling drums. Then I think there's a third section with a different time, which ends with Carlo's bass solo. Your guitar playing in the solo is so tonally influenced by heavy rock guitar, but the content isn't really rock music at all.

SS: I would agree. To be honest, I never listened to rock music. I started off with blues and almost immediately went to jazz, as far as guitar is concerned, so I never really transcribed or listened to Hendrix or Led Zeppelin. I had records, but I never really listened to them, if you know what I mean. But I like the sound—that distorted sound in jazz. It has this presence, and it works great. This tune is pretty heavy to play as well, because it's written to have all these different moments—it's like an evolving story with my solo as the climax. Again, Carlo's really holding this down, since Tyshawn and I are really together on this one as far as the development of my solo goes. We always started with this one on the tour, doing it as a trio. Then Achille would join us on the second tune.

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Carlo DeRosa, Samo Salamon, Tyshawn Sorey and Achille Succi, November 2005

AAJ: Because it's a soundboard recording, the audience is pretty much inaudible throughout the CD—except at the end of your guitar solo on "When We Go Away, that is. There, there's one voice screaming out in approval from the crowd.

SS: Yeah, I liked that. It was a nice moment. And on every show on this tour, after this solo on this song, the crowd went, "Whooo! It's a tune that really doesn't resolve—except after my solo when it goes into Carlo's solo, there is, finally, a relaxed moment. Otherwise, it's just lines after lines, changes after changes. And I like that.

AAJ: Well, most of the music we hear does resolve.

SS: Yeah. And I don't like clichés. So I pay a lot of attention to concept. I'm not really a technician like Monder or Adam Rogers, but I pay lots of attention to composition. That's one place where I feel I can establish myself.

AAJ: "Miss Sarcasm is another of your girlfriend-inspired songs, and it has a real M-Base/Steve Coleman/Greg Osby feel and a playful vibe. This has one of your tight unison themes of guitar and, here, bass clarinet over nervous, grooving bass and a great solo from Achille over Tyshawn's dazzling stoptime drum cascade. Again I notice Carlo's role sort of anchoring the music so Tyshawn can just play melodically.

SS: Well, like you said, it's definitely influenced by the M-Base stuff, especially Osby. I listened a lot to his Inner Circle, Symbols of Light and Zero records, which are great records conceptually for me. It's a nice tune. Again, some things that happened on this tune happened totally naturally. The development of the solos—when Achille finishes his solo, it goes into my solo very naturally. It just blends together, and we didn't even discuss how it was going to happen. It's a tune where the first three minutes or so are written out. It was a very fun tune to play. It's got that rockish influence again, as far as the sound is concerned.

AAJ: It's not uncommon for your songs to take their time getting to the solo material. There's often a through-composed part first.

SS: I like that. It's a question of ego, I think. For the musicians I know, that I've played with, it's the music that's important, not that you show how much you can play. If we play ten tunes in a concert, I don't care that I don't even solo on three of them. It's how the music sounds as a whole—it's the tune. A solo isn't an obligatory thing.

AAJ: Maybe because you feel that way, your solos are always extremely connected thematically to the composition. Even when you stray, I can still hear the composition. And speaking of solos, "Dancing Dust is just a lovely song of yours, and your solo is particularly spine-tingling. There's just a concentration to it that makes it extremely intense, although Achille's solo on alto is just wonderful as well.

SS: It's a pretty bouncy, melodic tune; it's really a happy one to play. Again, the meters and harmony are quite tricky. My first album was called Ornethology, and I have really listened a lot to Ornette Coleman. And this tune shows some of his influence—I mean it isn't really in his concept, since he plays free, but he plays melodies.

And that's something every musician has told me, whether it was John Scofield or Dave Binney: It's important to play melodically—not just playing crazy lines or arpeggios. So I hope it can be heard on this tune. Again, it's not about just playing technical stuff or showing how fast you can play. It's all about the tune. And I love that tune. It's very calm. Tyshawn's playing really nice stuff with the brushes, and that was a nice change in the concert, since the rest of it was all energy and no resolution.

AAJ: I think that even when you do play very technically or in a very arpeggiated way, it's still melodic. And I'm always taken aback by people who think Ornette's just about freedom, since no one in the last fifty years has written more melodically.

SS: Exactly. For me, he's the most melodic player there can be. I mean, "Lonely Woman or really everything with his original quartet—how much more melodic can it get?

AAJ: And of course Binney, who we'll discuss further on, is one of the great melodists in music.

SS: Oh, yeah. And he can play melodies in a technically impossible way.

AAJ: "Pyramid is especially concerned with changing time, even for you. There's a great restlessness to the playing on this one—the rhythm section is just wicked, so the soloists seem to be improvising on quicksand. That said, Achille's alto solo is phenomenal and almost Middle Eastern-inflected, and yours has that classic Samo mixture of brilliant single lines and those fascinating chords threaded between.

SS: It was, I think, the heaviest tune for all of us. It has a really long form—I think it's a five-page tune. I think we only got it down on the fourth or fifth concert; even Carlo and Tyshawn, who can play any music, had trouble with it in the first concerts. When you miss a beat [laughing], you're gone—especially when you're playing the theme over it. So when someone lost the beat, it was hard to figure out how to get back together. And somehow, we had to get back together! But once we got it together, it was beautiful to play. The changes are really heavy; it's not like some sort of II-V-I changes. It's changing tonalities constantly, which I really like, not playing harmony in a traditional way. And the meter is going from seven to five to six—just changing constantly. But I think it has this really nice flow. It's jaggedy, but there is still a flow to it.

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AAJ: Well, it flows so well that I think someone could hear it and not know how much it's changing. You'd have to start counting to realize. And I can never really find the time signatures in your songs.

SS: Oh, yeah. It's nice that people don't actually feel it as an odd meter, that they just feel the music. That's important, especially in a tune like that. It wouldn't make any sense, unless you were a musician, to try to technically figure out what's going on. It's really through-composed, and it goes for five pages. But if you had a look at the music, everything would be really clear. It just gets heavy due to the overlapping of the bass line and the melody; they have a contrapuntal relationship.

AAJ: It's not so common in this genre of music to have a composition that is that many pages long.

SS: No. And these guys were like, "Oh, shit! People usually really hate that many pages. You know, in a club they have those small music stands, and if anything falls off, it's over!


Government Cheese and the NYC Quintet

AAJ: Speaking of contrapuntal playing, let's talk about the Government Cheese CD by your NYC Quintet of drummer Gerald Cleaver, altoist Dave Binney, trombone player Josh Roseman, and bassist Mark Helias. This was released this year on the Fresh Sound New Talent label, but it's a studio session from December of 2004—recorded just a month after you did the Two Hours session [Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006] also with a New York quartet that included Mark.

This is another recording I like very much. The group is just remarkable despite the fact that it had a lot less time to play together than the band on Kei's Secret.

Tell me how this band got together, and tell me about Dave Binney in particular—it seems like he's been a great friend to you. His alto on this session is wonderful and, I think, brings out so much of the deep melodicism of your compositions.

SS: Well, let me start with the other guys. I knew Mark from the Two Hours session, and Drew Gress was actually supposed to play bass on this one, but he got stranded in Switzerland because of a snowstorm. So we were playing at the 55 Bar, and at six p.m. that evening, Drew called me to say he wouldn't be able to make the gig— or the recording, which was the day after the gig. So I called Mark and he jumped in. We went to his flat to check out the music and then straight to the gig.

It's funny, this music was sort of an introduction to Kei's Secret, although they were released in the opposite order. It's kind of a forecast of what's going to happen on Kei's Secret, because it's also some pretty complex music—not as complex, maybe. But anyway, Mark jumped in and he worked out great.

I think it was Dave that suggested Gerald. I'd known Gerald just from his records. He's probably one of the most in-demand drummers right now—one of those really elastic, polyrhythmic guys. Maybe you can't hear that so much on this record, because he's playing in a more disciplined way. But he's crazy, and I'm looking forward to a tour with Gerald and [saxophonist] Donny McCaslin and [bassist] John Hebert. That'll be another opportunity to develop the music.

Dave also suggested Josh, and I had met him before in Vienna. He's a great guy, and a great trombone player—again, a very melodic player. And he knows the M-Base stuff, and he's played with everybody from Dave Douglas to Don Byron, so he knows how to play heavy music.

And then there's Dave. Dave was really helpful on this record, especially conceptually. He really influenced me compositionally. We first worked together on the Ela's Dream project [Splasc(h) Records, 2005], which included a tour that featured more free, open playing. He worked out really great, and we've been friends ever since. He was really helpful on this Government Cheese project. We spent a lot of time together in New York, just hanging out, talking about music, listening to music. He gave me a lot of advice about how to compose and how to practice, and how to think about music in general. Like you said before, he's a great melodist, with an enormous technique—and a great composer, of course. He's like Chris Potter, but on alto saxophone.

AAJ: Mark's bass playing is very different on this record than Carlo DeRosa's work on Kei's Secret. His playing is busier, not such an anchor—he just adds all these different simultaneous lines to what anyone else is playing in the music.

SS: Yeah. With his trio, Open Loose, he plays really open. And he's one of those guys who can play any music. He's a great reader. He and Gerald play together in Open Loose, so they know each other. I like this band. It's these five different personalities blending together, and I think the music is nicely written to feature all the players—to give them all some nice moments. So I was happy about the band and the record.

AAJ: I said "contrapuntal before because this music makes so much use of the three voices of you, Josh and Dave. Josh will often play one line against you and Dave playing something else simultaneously. So you were definitely thinking about these voices when you composed?

SS: Definitely. It's nice to work in a quintet. It was a nice opportunity, and it happened because I went to New York. It's a lot harder to bring four people from New York to Europe, especially financially. It's better to tour in Europe now in trio or quartet, unless you're Dave Holland or Dave Douglas. So it was nice to write for five people; there are so many opportunities composition-wise. Trombone can play with bass, or it can play an independent line, like on "Eat the Monster. It's a great group to write for; you have four different melodic elements.

AAJ: I think you wrote "How the World Washed My Brain in New York just a couple of days before the session after seeing Binney's band play. This has a very lilting, light, jazzy theme, with unison alto and guitar plus Josh's trombone counterpart. I love Dave's solo on this one; he just nails it over that complex kit time and your guitar comping. Your solo's got that great blend of single notes and chords and is played, I think, just a breath behind the band.

SS: I had been to a lot of concerts and played in a lot of concerts. But when I went to see Dave's band—I think Adam Rogers sat in—like the title said, they washed my brain. I just went to the apartment and practiced until six a.m. And I got this melodic line [sings it], and I just wrote a tune in ten minutes. But yeah, Dave's solo—it's killin'. He plays over this complex figure with so much ease. It's amazing. As for my solo, I'm not really satisfied with the guitar sound on this record. My guitar sound has evolved since then. But it is a nice tune; it's special because of the other cats. Especially Gerald—he's really driving this one the whole time.

AAJ: How has your guitar sound evolved since this session?

SS: When I came back from New York, I really transcribed an enormous amount of music. I think I transcribed every one of Chris Potter's solos from all of his records. That's something like seventy solos written out. Then I did some of Osby's and Steve Coleman's, and I think it influenced my playing.

But I also got more mature as a person and player. I stopped wanting to show what I could play on every tune—how fast I could play or how many licks I knew. Now I think I really know what my sound is. Before I was still sort of searching; I was relatively new to the scene. I know a lot more players now, and have played in more groups, and have written more tunes. I know what sort of sounds I like, especially as far as my guitar is concerned.

AAJ: Well, I like Government Cheese anyway.

SS: Well [laughing], I like it too. Don't get me wrong! I'm just always critical of myself. I think that's the only way you can evolve.

AAJ: It's also good you like your newest stuff the best. It would be unfortunate if you didn't.

SS: Yeah! You know, you listen to a record after it's mixed or once you have the master, and it's just like, "Ah, well, it sounds nice. Then you record the next project, and you always like the new one better. The old one just doesn't seem as great. It's okay, it could be better. But that's the normal process of evolving and growing up. So I'm really satisfied with every record so far, because it's a normal, step-by-step procedure of evolving. I would be really afraid if this didn't happen because this would mean that something's not right.

AAJ: I love "Her Name because it starts like a ballad—and it is one, a beautiful one. But with its changes of tempo and emphasis, it's a sort of half-ballad. It's got that up-tempo theme material, that little head which doesn't appear until its ballady, super-calm, spacious first section. I can't even count some of the times in here, but you do some of your greatest chordal playing coming out of your solo towards the end of the song with the horns dancing around your riffing chords. Tell me about this one.

SS: I sort of think of this as a Dave Holland Quintet piece—but with a guitar. Instead of vibes, it's guitar, and instead of tenor, it's alto sax. But it's very Dave Holland-influenced. I really like the climax at the end, and Mark plays a beautiful bass solo. The melody is very contrapuntal, and the song is moving in lots of different time meters, and it's okay you can't count them—it should be how the music influences you or what sort of effect it has on you. I think it's a nice tune, and I like how the music develops on this one.

AAJ: Well, I don't think real people even think about time signatures. I just listen and count because I feel I'm supposed to—I'm preparing for an interview.

SS: Yeah, I like that. It's just crazy critics and crazy jazz musicians that do that! I'm like that at every concert, moving my fingers: "What is this? Seven and plus-six? Okay.

AAJ: Yeah, and I was happiest when I was a teenager and didn't think anything. I just loved the music.

SS: Oh, I would love that. I can't do that anymore. All I do is think. It's a deformity.

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AAJ: "The Last Goodbye is, you said, kind of ECM-influenced. It begins with Binney's lead alto melody with Josh's independent, quiet trombone line and your arpeggiated guitar figure. I like Dave's solo here---there's some real rhythmic rubs of guitar comping and drums sort of brushing against it. I like the way the group adjusts rhythmically to your arpeggiated solo, too—there's an interlocked but very human quality to the various instruments' time. The players really understand this song.

SS: What I like best about this record is Dave. When we mixed this album, this tune just seemed like it had the most beautiful solo—his solo seemed like it was as beautiful as a solo could be. I love the way he develops the melody on these changes. Gerald really plays beautifully, too. The whole band plays beautifully, and it's a nice tune. But the high point is Dave's solo.

AAJ: "The Bee and the Knee —is that a pun around Binney's name?

SS: Yeah, exactly.

AAJ: This song is really effervescently grooving despite its complex time—and I love the brief traded solos between you and Josh. This one really is made for the unique timbral textures of these musicians and their instruments. Your solo really has that heavy, rock-inflected tone—very single-note here.

SS: I had this bass line and thought it would be a nice bass line for Josh and Mark to play together. I was thinking of this independent bass line and a melody going over the top of it. Then the band gets together on the B part, which is in 5/4.

And yes, it's a nice conversation between me and Josh during the first part. I think you can really see how melodic a player Josh is, especially on those sort of funk-influenced, grooving tunes. And the B part is, again, Dave just going crazy on those changes and Mark and Gerald playing really nicely underneath. That's a nice moment because it's just trio: sax, bass and drums. I like that in music. You know, everyone doesn't necessarily have to play all the time. It is a nice, groovy type of a tune.


Working with Jaka Berger

AAJ: Tell me about your work as a sideman in drummer Jaka Berger's Bas Trio, which is a group of you, Achille, and Jaka. You have a recording that came out last year on Splasc(h) Records—BRGS Time, recorded in June of 2005—which consists of mostly dual compositions by you and Jaka. I love the sound of this band; it's really intense but spacious at the same time. You and Jaka composed these pieces together, except for one by him alone and two by you alone. How does that process of writing together work? Do you feel your playing is different in this context of it being someone else's group?

SS: Definitely. He called me for the session, and he first wanted to do a duo session of just guitar and drums. He's a relatively young guy. I suggested that we do a trio record and get Achille, because I know him well and he can play the shit out of anything. So he was perfect for this band.

Yeah, I wrote two tunes for this record. And I worked with him on his music. He had these rhythmic ideas and wanted a couple of melodies. So we got together as a duo, just drums and guitar, and I wasn't able to read anything he wrote because he put everything into [the music notation software] Sibelius or Finale, and it was just this crazy sheet of black dots everywhere! You know how those programs work. And there was no harmony or anything. So I told him, "Give me the music, and I'll put this into order. I'll put everything into time signatures and arrange it.

Basically, he had some melodies and some rhythmical ideas, and I just wrote a B part for a tune or arranged the melody and put chords over it. I got everything into a tune-type of format. It was a nice challenge—to get these ideas and make some music out of them. And I think it turned out great. It's a nice record. Especially because of the absence of the bass; I had to think differently and respond differently to the music. Which is great—to be able to play different formats of music. That's the way to learn.



AAJ: What's your guitar setup? What do you play through and what's your gear?

SS: I have this Ibanez AS-200 guitar—the thick one with the hollow body. I play it through a Boss GT-5 [effects processor] which I got a couple of years ago. I don't really like processed sounds, so I actually just use two clean sounds. One is a clean, muted kind of sound—sort of muffy, with a small reverb. The other has a really big, open reverb, which you'll hear on that tune "When We Go Away. Then I have only two distortions: the really heavy one that's on "When We Go Away and the softer one that's on "Stand Back. Then I play it through a Fender Concert—not in New York, because I didn't bring my amplifier with me. It's got one twelve-inch speaker, and they don't make them anymore. They just made those amps for two years or so. It has a perfect sound for me, just a clean sound.

That's basically it for me. I don't like too many gadgets. I'm not really good at knowing amps and new guitar effects, or guitars. I'd be a really bad guy to talk to about new gear.

AAJ: Well, so much of a player's sound comes from fingers and strings.

SS: Exactly. Scofield sounds like Scofield if he plays on a ten dollar guitar or if he plays on his own guitar. It's the fingers. And this is what I try to say to my students. "Forget about this talk about what guitar you use. Just practice. You can get the best guitar, the best amp, but if you can't play, it won't help you.



AAJ: Your tunes are rather complex and certainly not easy to play. How do you write? What do you start with? Where do the complex time signatures come into play?

SS: Well, I'm preparing for this tour, and I'm just in this collecting phase. I'll be riding in a car, and I'll get this melody in my head, and I'll write it down. So it may just be a ten-note melody. So I just put it into a map, and then I can come up with a bass line with, I don't know, an 11/4 or 7/4 kind of bass groove, and I write that down. Or I practice and come up with some interesting harmonies, and I write those down. It depends. Sometimes I start with bass and build on the bass, or sometimes I just have the melody and I put stuff on that. Or I'll just have the harmony, and I'll figure out a bass line and melody to go with that. It really varies, but eventually I make a whole out of what I started with so it doesn't sound like individual elements.

AAJ: You seem to be writing a lot. How often do you compose? Do you write every day?

SS: Well, I try. I usually am composing for a band. So last year I wrote for the guitar trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey. And now I'm preparing for the quartet with Donny McCaslin, Gerald Cleaver and John Hebert. So I guess I collect ideas throughout the year, and I try to find interesting bands—different constellations of musicians to put together. So in November I have a group coming up that has tuba, violin, drums and guitar. Again, it's a challenge. I'll be able to learn some new ideas. And next year, I have a tour with [altoist] Tim Berne and Tom Rainey—another trio without a bass. This will be another challenge.

I may not compose every day, but I collect ideas every day.


Unreleased Recordings and Projects

AAJ: I know you have several recordings done that haven't been released yet—your New European Quartet, your quartet Gobida, your Mamasaal Quartet, and your trio with Gress and Rainey. Any chance of seeing some of these released this year?

SS: I think the European Quartet with [tuba player] Michel Godard, [saxophonist] Julian Arguelles, and [drummer] Roberto Dani is coming out in the fall. The problem is that the labels—Splasc(h) Records and Fresh Sounds—have said, "We'd love to bring out your records, but we cannot release two or three records of yours every year. So, yeah, maybe two records are coming—that European Quartet one, and hopefully the trio with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey—both in the fall of 2007. And this year I'll probably record two new projects, so the projects are always released around the time my music has evolved to something else.

samo salamon

AAJ: Well, I only know the records I've heard—which are the ones already released. Where is the music evolving? Where are your compositions going?

SS: Well, I write for projects, and this European Quartet is more through-composed and doesn't feature a lot of my playing. I have just two solos on that record, and it has eleven tunes. So it's very through-composed stuff.

And the Gobida band [of Godard, Dani, and accordionist Luciano Biondini] I really like, especially as a composer, because it's a band of tuba, accordion, guitar and drums, and that's pretty interesting compositionally. It's really special.

And the trio of Drew and Tom is probably, as far as composing and playing, the most developed. It's got some tricky tunes and really amazing playing from everybody. I just got the master from the studio last week. This one is probably the most satisfying so far, and I hope it'll be out as soon as possible. I'm really eager for people to hear it.

The Mamasaal group with [saxophonist] Mark Turner is just a really nice blowing record. It's got some of my tunes, but it really shows me more as a guitarist.


Playing in Slovenia

AAJ: What's your life like as a musician in Maribor, Slovenia? Is it even possible for you to play out there? Or do you just spend your time composing?

SS: It's bad [laughing] for a jazz musician. And once you've played with guys like Binney or Tyshawn or Tom Rainey or Drew Gress, it's hard to play with anyone else. And you have to just play standards. There aren't many players in Slovenia playing the music I want to play and at the level I want to play it.

But I'm not too concerned about that. I just try to practice every day and listen to music and compose music. I just do my own projects, and that's how I see myself. That's the joy of it: to be able to do my music, and I'm really happy that I can do it. I do two tours per year, and two or three records per year. That's a lot—thirty tunes a year. That's lots of work. I mostly teach guitar here, and in terms of gigs, I do two European tours a year. Not in Slovenia.

Selected Discography

Samo Salamon NYC Quintet, Government Cheese (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2007)
Samo Salamon New Quartet, Kei's Secret (Splasc(h) Records, 2006)
Bas Trio, BRGS Time (Splasc(h) Records, 2006)
Samo Salamon Quartet, Two Hours (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2006)
Samo Salamon Sextet, Ela's Dream (Splasc(h) Records, 2005)
Samo Salamon Quartet, Ornethology (Samo Records, 2003)
Ansasa Trio, Arabian Picnic (Samo Records, 2002)

Photo Credits

All photos courtesy of Samo Salamon

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